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Experiencing Winter in Healthy Ways 

By Mandi C. Dalicandro-Turk, MSPC

For some, winter evokes the visualization of a warm cozy fire, and the sight of a freshly fallen snow. For others, it’s contending with months of the rigid cold, darkness in the early hours of the evening, months of long nights, and the occasional icy conditions. Many experience each in combination. The winter season keeps many from engaging in activities that are enjoyable for most times of the year, brings people indoors, and at times, isolated and with minimal supports, more time to think, and lowered frequency of social interactions.

The following considerations will give a combination of factors that many contend with throughout the winter season, and examples of ways to cope with and experience winter in an array of healthy ways.

1. Distraction-the healthy kind: It’s essential to consider how an individual’s temperament, personality, emotional lability, mental health, and/or behavioral health impacts day to day functioning; especially during the winter season.  For example, an individual with a negative affect has potential to increased vulnerability to depression, anxiety, and mood disorder.  For many individuals, the months of early evenings and dark nights contribute to isolation and increased frequency of a negative internal dialogue, which may contribute to isolation, less social supports and positive interactions. Each of these factors impact an individual’s quality of life greatly. It is important to find ways to increase positive interactions, and lower negative and self-defeating thought processes.

This type of distraction is a great coping mechanism for contending with the winter seasons. For example, the presence of a negative internal dialogue, anxious and/or depressive behaviors and symptoms are difficult for individuals to experience; this becomes more difficult during times where increased isolation, less options for activities, and the potential for less supports is present.  Learning the discipline to distract from negative thoughts more readily will increase mood, positive thought processes, and decrease depressive and anxious symptoms, while allowing negative thoughts to minimize.  It is important to note that at times, negative thought patterns, and anxious and depressive symptoms are part of a long-term cognitive process and more difficult to distract from.  When this happens, a person does have the option to allow, for example, ten to fifteen minutes to focus on the negative thoughts, journal those thoughts and feelings, and then begin engaging in distracting behaviors. Additionally, if the negative thoughts and/or feelings return, it is natural to feel frustrated.  However, if this does happen, it is important to remember that with practice, it will be easier to distract from the negative thoughts and feelings. Practicing distraction in this manner has the potential to decrease the intensity and duration of negative internal dialogues, and assist with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Examples of Distraction are found below in Change the Environment.

  1. Change the Environment: Consider what is enjoyable; especially during the warmer weather when the opportunities for activities seem more available and with a more extensive variety of choice present. Now get creative. Take one or more of those activities and consider what could replace it during the winter months. For example, replace the adventure of hiking with snow tubing or take a brisk walk when the weather conditions permit. If spending time in the elements feels a bit overwhelming, volunteer, spend time with pets, or possibly volunteer at an animal shelter; if that feels enjoyable and seems to be a good cause. In addition, take time away from social media, and carve out time to have conversations with friends or family. This is beneficial over the phone and definitely in person. It is common to feel a shift in mood, increased levels of relaxation, and overall feelings of wellness after visiting with family or friends. Spend time laughing and engaging in humor, have a game night, or watch a funny movie.  It is enjoyable and brings a healthy and light-hearted fun to daily life. Lastly, take time to meditate, listen to music, and/or dance.

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  1. Therapy: When difficulties with mood exist, it’s essential to talk with your therapists. The process of therapy assists with issues with mood, symptoms of depression, anxiety, and an array of behavioral health and mental health issues. For example, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is present in approximately 5% of the population and occurs approximately 40% of the year (Kirlansik & Ibay, 2013, p. 607).  Most times, SAD begins during the fall or winter months and starts to subside during the spring. However, this pattern has the potential to be present in the summer months (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 187).  In this occurrence, the individual feels much better during winter months (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 187).  Symptoms of SAD may be mild, moderate or severe. It is vital to seek out a therapist at the onset of difficult and distressing symptoms; especially when symptoms become unmanageable and begin to interfere with daily activities. At times, an individual may feel restless, have difficulty concentrating or starting a task, feel anxious, experience high levels of stress, and/or have a lessened desire for things enjoyable at other times of the year.  It’s imperative to seek out support before emotional difficulties during the winter season manifest into SAD; especially if a biological predisposition exists and/or environmental factors are present. A therapist will be able to utilize a variety of methods, treatments, and techniques to assist with managing and lowering symptoms and restoring overall behavioral health and mental health.

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  1. Natural Light: Exposure to natural light daily is essential. It assists with elevated mood and increased vitamin D levels. Therefore, open the blinds and take time outside when weather conditions permit. The winter season lasts for many months and taking this opportunity as often as possible is important for experiencing a healthy winter. On warmer days, it may be in the form of a walk or taking time out for a hot cup of tea on the porch. Give as many opportunities for sunlight and fresh air as possible. On the days the temperature is high enough to crack a few windows without increasing heating bills, take time to enjoy the rare opportunity. Take time to enjoy the natural sunlight while commuting to and from work each day. I enjoy the opportunities for fresh air and sunlight from opening all the windows in my vehicle. I find it relaxing.  Lastly, if natural sunlight is difficult to get exposure to, for any reason, there are light therapy lamps available as an alternative. I have known therapists and clients that use light therapy during the winter months.

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  1. Start a Project: Projects are a great way to enjoy the winter months. It’s a time to enjoy accomplishing things indoors; in the warmth of home. At times, there is opportunity to tackle larger projects in the home during the winter. This could be working with wood, painting a room, or refinishing an entire section the house (yes, this has potential to be enjoyable for some). However, if this feels overwhelming, start small and tackle cleaning out a few drawers or reorganizing a small area. With any project, it is important to feel a sense of accomplishment once the project is completed. I occasionally take time to build something small out of wood. It’s something I learned many years ago from my father and continue to enjoy currently.  Additionally, many individuals enjoy working in the arts, which has potential to feel therapeutic as well. Winter is a great time to take a class in something enjoyable. For example, my neighbor takes a painting class and has mentioned many times how much she enjoys the creative and social aspects of the class. Lastly, if there are children roaming around, take time to spend time in their space doing an art or science project, or simply carve out time to read a book or series of books together.

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6. Exercise: Physical health has power to improve overall health, balance cortisol levels and stress hormones, and support mental health and wellness. For example, for those with a passion for running, spending time outside in the elements and nature is quite familiar and comfortable. When winter conditions bring individuals inside, for many runners, getting on a treadmill has the tendency to feel restricting and well, frustrating. Yet, many individuals understand the importance of the safety factors involved with ice, slick outdoors conditions, and unsafe sidewalks and trails during this time of the year.  Running is one example of adjusting physical activity in the winter, many types of physical activity and sports are limited to being indoors. This is where having numerous activities to engage in is beneficial.  At times, individuals will start a gym membership that lasts only through the difficult winter months and when the conditions are too harsh to be outside, exercise is indoors.  Exercise is something extremely personal and individual. It is important to find the right environments and educated trainers to assist with safety and personal goals. At times, individuals feel uncomfortable and/or insecure in regards to personal abilities or performance when starting an exercise regimen. Working through this difficult process builds discipline, confidence, and increases goal setting behaviors.  It’s important to stay physically active consistently, to adapt activities during the winter months, and to have fun in the process. Lastly, eating healthy and well balanced each day is important for mental clarity, focus, mood, energy, and keeping away unnecessary inflammation. Treat the self well, be kind on days of struggle, set mini-goals, give time to adjust and readjust to new behaviors if necessary, and value the importance of maintaining a balance between physical health, behavioral health, and mental health.

In closing, it is important to venture out and try new things. An individual has the opportunities to try many things- ultimately it comes down to what works for each individual.  It’s important to be open to trying new things consistently throughout life; even when it’s frustrating. Consistent reminders to take one behavior that isn’t working and to replace it with another behavior that may be beneficial to overall health and wellness is vital to experiencing a healthy winter (applicable with most behaviors). In a situation where an individual has tried different things, is still struggling, and having difficulty figuring out what works, or doesn’t know where to begin, seek out professional assistance from a therapist. Lastly, it is imperative to treat the self with kindness, to experience laughter and humor each day, to give time to adapt to new habits and behaviors, and to stay positive in trying new activities. Be realistic in regards to what each individual contends with and carries each day, as well as, individual starting points, and the time and dedication it takes to work towards uncovering each of the facets involved in reaching long-term goals towards a healthier life.

Feel free to share some of the ways you’ve implemented new habits and behaviors to experience winter in healthy ways.  Leave a comment with any questions or curiosity you may have for more information regarding this or other subjects.

Until next time – learn, grow & enjoy,
Mandi

References

American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Kurlansik Stuart L, Ibay Annamarie D. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Indian Journal of Clinical Practice. 2013 Dec; 24(7): 607-610.

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Self Care (part 2)

In the last blog Self-Care (Part-1), meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis were discussed as part of self-care and relaxation techniques in areas such as anxiety, grief, life transitions, as part of therapy, as positive daily coping mechanisms, and to assist in sleep. Part-2 of the segment discusses more active and physical aspects of self-care, the importance during life transitions, and touches on a few other areas.

Self-care is an important component of life-one that many grapple with.  Most times, implementing and allowing self-care improves overall quality of life and dually allows an individual to step outside of one’s ‘self’, which in turn, promotes a healthier outlook on daily life and increases capacities to give to one’s self, family, community and society as a whole.

Self-care, at times, is difficult even for those that practice with consistency. This is where having an array of self-care behaviors that are easily implemented into different environments and situations is beneficial to building lifelong adaptable habits and behaviors.

I was at the park with my child recently and began speaking with a female that was there with her grandchildren.  She began discussing how she had two grown children and a number of grandchildren. Each of her grown children, their partners, and her grandchildren were in the process of moving; one family was moving a few hours away and one family was moving out of state.  The reality of little time with each family; especially her young grandchildren became difficult for her to contend with emotionally.

She began telling me how she is retired and that she is hoping that her husband will retire soon, yet, isn’t certain that he is ready.  This is a significant part of transitioning into retirement for those partnered in a long-term relationship.  She mentioned that she has been struggling greatly with this transition and isn’t certain what to do.  During the conversation, we discussed things she enjoys doing and how to begin implementing things she enjoys back into her life.  I noticed her discussing the past and the difficulty in transitioning forward.  This is a process that many encounter when grappling with difficult transition periods throughout a person’s life span.  In part, she was contending with transitioning to retirement and was anticipating her husband’s retirement, which he may not be ready to transition towards at this point in his life.  A main source of difficulty was struggling with finding a major aspect of her identity without the opportunity to nurture and be a caregiver for her grandchildren.  There is loss and opportunity dually in this transition period.

In daily life, self-care is essential, and vital to mental health and wellness during the process of transition periods, that are most times, filled dually with positive and difficult life changes and adjustments. Self-care becomes key to minimize depression, isolation, and the onset of an array of behavioral health and mental health issues. During our conversation, I asked her about things she enjoys.  She discussed the possibility of joining a group, becoming more active by taking a fitness class, finding projects at home that would bring a sense of accomplishment, and rediscovering her passion for painting. Each self-care item appeared to bring focus to the present, and towards finding new ways to enjoy life moving forward. Presently, she is grappling with many significant areas in her life. Seeking out the assistance of a professional therapeutic relationship may be most beneficial in finding positive coping strategies, stress reduction techniques, and committing to where she currently is in life, while preparing for upcoming life transitions; as well as, in finding new ways she will be able to nurture and give in manners she finds rewarding.

Being engaged in activities including physical fitness is beneficial to a mental health and well-being. Physical activity has the potential to assist in increasing energy, improving mood, reducing anxiety, and alleviating depressive symptoms. This can be in the form of a walk outside in nature, a run, biking, cross-fit, weights, or an array of other fitness activities. It’s getting out there and starting.  Whether it’s a ten-minute walk or a half marathon, there is a sense of accomplishment in working towards and finishing a set goal.  For example, I enjoy running as part of self-care.  It is one of my favorite forms of self-care.  I am not the fastest runner- quite honestly, I pace slower currently than I did in the past. I had taken a break from running and looked forward to returning!  I could feel a difference when running was missing as part of my self-care practices.  I used to run by myself and more recently, I run in a group environment. For me, running challenges me, it’s a lot of fun, and is a great form of stress release. Plus, I enjoy consistently working to increase my pace and endurance levels. I recall running my first 5K.  I had run the distance of a 5K in the past, yet, in returning, I was working towards having my feet on the pavement for the distance I experienced in past runs.  I did decide to formally signup for a 5K.  My pace was slow and crossing the finish line was a challenge; however, the entire experience was exhilarating and beneficial to me as a human-being.  I continue to run and push myself in these areas.  I am also looking forward to my next 5K experience.

I have met numerous individuals that tell me they don’t enjoy exercise. If you’re one of these individuals ask yourself these few questions:

  1. What have you attempted?
  2. How were you feeling before engaging in the self-care activity?
  3. What were your feelings when reflecting on what you experienced during the activity?
  4. How did you feel after?
  5. What messages were you given throughout your life about physical activity, your body?
  6. What messages do you carry with you currently that hold you back from physical activity and healthy self-care habits?
  7. Which items are part of an outed cycle of thought processes that do not relate to who you are and how you see yourself as a human currently?
  8. What are you open to trying?
  9. What do you feel comfortable about when considering implementing new self-care habits?
  10. What is your discomfort in the self-care activities you’re considering?
  11. How will you overcome your discomforts? Note: you are able to engage in activities with the discomforts present; over time, the discomforts with decrease, and you’ll feel an internal sense of accomplishment that will carry with you as you tackle new activities and exposure to new environments.
  12. If you took a pause, what were your reasons? Note: if the break was due to an injury, working with the proper medical professionals towards a full recovery and being cleared to seek out a safe replacement, whether temporary or long-term has the potential to be a beneficial option for those that function better with consistent activity as part of daily self-care habits.

Each of the above questions is a starting point for you to begin exploring your personal experiences and feelings regarding self-care.  If you need further assistance, you’re able to talk with your therapist regarding the process of overcoming personal obstacles to improving overall mental health, behavioral health, wellness, and consistency with self-care.

This segment discussed physical ways to engage in self-care and touched on life transitions.  Clients and friends mention the level of guilt in taking time for self-care.  It is important to work towards utilizing energies for positive daily self-care practices that work for you and your family, which was touched on in Self-Care (Part-1), and to move away from guilt and shaming.  Treat yourself with kindness and allow yourself to engage in activities that you may feel a level of uncertainty and discomfort with at first.  Give yourself the time and practice to improve, while enjoying the benefits of creating life-long self-care practices.

Lastly, surround yourself with positive people that bring out your natural energy, and create a sense of pleasure and laughter in your life.  Self-care increases capacities to function in more desirable manners.  It is healthy for brain function and it is immensely beneficial for human-beings to experience the enjoyment of learning new ways of being engaged in self-care and being physically active.

Learn, grow, engage in self-care & enjoy,
Mandi

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Self Care

Self-care is an essential aspect of a quality life, yet, difficult for many.  This is important for many individuals.  Self-care is vital to overall health and well-being, and has the potential to assist with high levels of stress, daily stressors, anxiety, depression, grief, welcomed and unwelcomed life transitions, and many other aspects of being human.  For example, a professional that is balancing an array of responsibilities daily, benefits greatly from self-care. A stay at home mom or dad that hasn’t had any real down time or break for weeks, possibly longer, benefits immensely. A person that has recently retired and it adjusting to a completely different lifestyle and set of supports may have a smoother transition with self-care rituals. A child or adolescent that’s contending with growth and development, issues at school, or even the grief and processing of parents’ recent divorce has the potential to work through difficult emotions with the support of self-care. You may identify with one or more of these examples, know somebody with similar experiences, or have your own unique story and life circumstances.

For example, meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis are each self-care techniques that assist with capacities to decompress, relax, and bring balance to an individual.  These techniques assist in relaxing the parasympathetic nervous system.  For many, this allows deeper slower breathing, which aids in increased oxygen to one’s brain, lowered blood pressure, and relief from emotional and physiological symptoms of stress.

I have encountered clients and individuals that enjoy relaxation techniques and those that have difficulty with gaining the discipline to practice relaxation as part of self-care with consistency.  It does take commitment, practice, and, at times, the assistance of a professional’s help and expertise.  Other times, it is as easy as downloading an app and carving out time to begin.  This is especially relevant for those preoccupied with anxiety.  It is difficult for many suffering with anxiety to step away from the anxiety experienced; especially those with generalized anxiety.  Many clients fear stepping away from anxious thoughts.  The thoughts will feel more manageable after practicing any combination of the self-care and relaxation techniques discussed.  At times, a therapist may utilize self-hypnosis with cognitive behavioral therapy when it appears beneficial for the client.  A therapist may also recommend a combination of each technique to practice at home in between sessions.

Additionally, mindfulness, meditation, and self-hypnosis have potential to be beneficial for a person (at any age) with sleep issues.  Deep breathing is a beneficial facet of relaxation.  Deep breathing is relevant to, for example, young children with fears that contribute to sleeping issues, as well as, for adults that fall asleep to the sound and lights of a television only to experience decades of interrupted sleep cycles and the difficulties correlated with these behaviors.  Engaging in these techniques assist with redirecting focus and aiding in a sense of well-being to assist in promoting healthier sleep cycles over time.

There are an array of meditation, mindfulness, and self-hypnosis techniques as part of self-care.  The benefit of having options is in giving more opportunities to find a combination of techniques for individuals to utilize at different times.  As a counselor, it is beneficial for my clients to have several different types of self-care techniques available. At times, I recommend starting with one technique, checking in with how the client feels, and with time, building towards having several positive self-care options available to choose from. Integrating a variety of self-care rituals in different environments gives opportunity to practice positive and consistent self-care habits across the life-span.  I engage in each of the techniques discussed, and many others as part of my self-care rituals.  I enjoy aspects of each; especially self-hypnosis.  For me, practicing each, dually relaxes and reenergizes me as a human-being.  In Part-2 of the Self-Care segment, I will discuss a different set of self-care techniques to utilize with what was discussed in Part-1. Self-Care Part-2 will include more active ways to manage stress.

Feel free to share some of your experiences of utilizing meditation, mindfulness, and/or self-hypnosis as part of self-care. Leave a comment with any questions or curiosity you may have for more information regarding meditation, mindfulness, and/or self-hypnosis as part of self-care.

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi

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Benefits of Volunteer Work

Several years ago, I had a desire to do volunteer work. During my search, I came across many great causes, yet, it wasn’t until I learned about volunteering in a capacity that assisted groups of individuals working in public safety that I decided that this was a group of people I could commit to helping.  For the last number of years, I have volunteered as a mental health person for a critical incident stress management team that assists public safety personnel after the exposure to a critical incident.  As soon as I learned about what I would being doing for this demographic, I felt this was an area where I could give support and help others; especially a demographic that at times, is met with scrutiny and/or lack of understanding for what is endured.

As mentioned, as a volunteer, I work with public safety personnel after a critical incident.  This is done in a group setting during a debriefing or defusing. Recordings of any kind are not permitted, and everything is treated with the upmost confidentiality.  There is a sense of comradery within the group that appears to assist with healing.  A debriefing or defusing is not therapy.  However, it is therapeutic for individuals that work in public safety after the exposure to one or more critical incidents.

In addition, we refer individuals for therapy if an individual is grappling with trauma from the exposure to a critical incident and would benefit from further assistance.  Many times, debriefings and defusing simultaneously assist with decreasing high levels of stress, decreasing the need for therapy, and increasing resources available for an individual that may feel a therapeutic relationship is beneficial to further healing.

Much of the time, volunteers experience a high level of compassion satisfaction and feel a sense of accomplishment in assisting a demographic that at times, suffers in silence.  For me, volunteer work is something I feel passionate about; I’m thankful for the opportunity to help groups of people that give so much of themselves to others, and am able to balance my time volunteering with each of the facets of my busy schedule.

I have had both clients and friends mention that they would like to take an active role in volunteer work, yet, aren’t sure “what to do”.  Does a person need to do formal volunteer work or is a person able to give to others and the community in other ways?  Of course, an individual is able to give in other ways or possibly by offering your time to a combination of each.  There are many ways to volunteer your time and to benefit your community, and society as a whole.

Additionally, if volunteer work becomes too much to balance, is overextending one’s reserves and energies, and/or contributes to trauma, then it’s perfectly appropriate to take a break or find another cause that works with your life and current circumstances.  At times, volunteering your time is helping your neighbor with yard work, or picking up groceries for someone that is ill.  Others, it’s taking time out of your day to call a person that could use the support. Giving is an important part of life.  Many times, it assists the volunteer as much as the individual(s) being helped.  There is a sense of compassion, gratitude, and satisfaction in helping others; especially in giving your time. Volunteer work is beneficial for each person in life. My child helps our neighbor with yard work consistently.  This is a way that she is able to give, learn, and grow as a person.  This is a way that our neighbor is able to engage in generativity by teaching about planting and various other aspects about life and nature. As a parent, I appreciate these aspects of life.

It is important to find volunteer work that it comfortable for an individual and works with a person’s busy life; especially in today’s society.  Many, including myself, balance many facets of day to day life.  This includes family, friends, community, career, self-care, rest and relaxation (some may be saying what is that), and various other facets of life.

Ask yourself these few questions as a start in considering if volunteer work is something that would work with your life:

  1. Is this something I could be interested in and visualize myself doing with consistency?
  2. Is this a demographic I am motivated to help and in what ways?
  3. Will this type of volunteer work and the position I am considering work with my schedule and/or my family’s schedule in each area of life?
  4. Is this something I will be able to balance with my current life style, if not, am I willing to make the necessary adjustments to do so?
  5. Will I be able to maintain my current commitment(s) to myself and others?
  6. Will this type of volunteer work contribute to any trauma and/or trigger past trauma; if this probability is present, what resources are available for supports through the volunteer work and in my personal life?
  7. Is this an area I could thrive in and in what ways would I be able to help others?

This is not a comprehensive list, yet, a starting place to consider. At the end of each day, many could benefit from giving time to volunteer to a demographic that speaks to you as an individual.

Please share your experiences with volunteer work.  What brought you towards that demographic and the type of work?  How do you feel after you assist this demographic?  Is there anything you sacrifice to give to others, if so, is it something you’re able to balance and feels beneficial? What benefits do you experience personally from volunteering?

Learn, grow, & enjoy,
Mandi